Lieutenant Curtis Chambers and others addressed the Redmond City Council Tuesday evening to clarify what the police department has learned from citizen town halls and other public meetings in addition to gathering public surveys as to whether Redmond citizens would agree to raise their monthly utility bills six dollars a month.
The proposal has been circulating throughout the city for many months as the city seeks additional funding to hire six more police officers. Lt. Chambers reminded the council that the last recession cost the city eight officers – but now with rapid population growth the city needs those officer positions restored to meet the law enforcement needs of the city.
Lt. Chambers reminded the city council that six additional officers would enhance not only daily law enforcement on the street, but also enable more effective illegal drug eradication, faster response times to emergencies like domestic violence, burglaries, fights, robberies and other serious crimes. It would also restore police patrols in or near city parks and officers on foot in the downtown area to make locals and tourists feel safer after dark.
City Finance Director Jason Neff, with Redmond Police Chief Dave Tarbet at his side, argued that although there has been some push-back on the fact that a law enforcement surcharge on utility bills seems a bit odd to some citizens, it’s quite common, and becoming even more so all over Oregon as communities just like Redmond fight budget struggles made worse by the state’s Public Employment Retirement Program deficit which will get worse before it gets better.
Neff continued his plea for a utility surcharge saying that triggering a property tax hike to hire the six additional officers is sometimes a less than reliable source of funds – “Look what happened in 2008,” he said. “Overnight, property taxes took a tumble and we had to slash nearly a quarter of the police force. A utility surcharge would hot have done that to us because it’s a bill that everybody pays every month.”
Chief Tarbet has addressed the council in the past pointing out that many Oregon cities use very similar public safety fees to keep their police departments strong and effective.
And finally, Neff reminded the council that under Oregon law there’s a tax cap in every county that cannot be exceeded, meaning that if the city resorted to the property tax to hire more officers, those funds would count against that cap, thereby possibly impacting other government agencies like Redmond Fire and Rescue, Redmond Parks and Recreation, Redmond School District and others.
Lt. Chambers said that whatever the method of raising more law enforcement revenue, widely held opinion on the street is that whatever revenue source is selected, Redmond citizens want to vote on it.
Mayor Endicott and his council took a deep collective breath and asked Lt. Chambers ‘what’s next?’ Lt. Chambers replied “There is one last public town hall meeting scheduled for Monday, January 22nd at 6pm, second floor of City Hall. Once that session is over and we tabulate all the results of our meetings and surveys, we’ll be back before the council again in February to hopefully determine our way forward.” Finance Director Neff chimed in saying “If we get the utility surcharge approved, then we’ll be properly staffed with police. Then, as the town grows, we can afford to add one additional officer a year because of rising property tax revenues due to population growth and new residential and commercial construction.” New people and new construction means more revenue to the city WITHOUT raising the property tax RATE. As the tax base grows, the money grows.
So we’ll see how it all pans out when the City Council decides in February whether to put the six dollar utility surcharge on the ballot, or just approve it by a simple vote of the council.